For the week of July 7, 1999  thru July 13, 1999  

The perfect couple

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

Dan Quayle’s political obituary was written a few weeks ago in charitable prose by the dean of Washington columnists, David Broder, who concluded that the former vice president can’t shake his image as a dufus that voters don’t take seriously.

Now the same might be said of the image of Idaho’s congressional eccentric, Helen Chenoweth, who seems determined to exhaust the remaining remnants of her credibility in the last months of what she claims is her last term.

First, there was her clumsy remark that environmentalists are unduly alarmist about a shortage of salmon –store shelves, Chenoweth proclaimed, are stocked with cans of salmon.

Then she graduated to paranoia about the sight of black helicopters in U.S. skies, hinting they might involve sinister United Nations military designs on American sovereignty.

The paranoia about helicopters (actually, U.S. ‘copters on training missions) has now given way to an obsession with what she seems to fear is a dark new UN conspiracy to undermine U.S. sovereignty -- "world heritage sites," UN designations of national geographical and architectural treasures all over the world as deserving special protection.

She’s so obsessed, she’s off to Paris to survey a UN meeting in which "world heritage sites" will be discussed. UN matters, not boutiques along the boulevards, presumably will fixate the gentle lady from Idaho who’ll travel at taxpayer expense.

Just as columnist Broder pointed out former Vice President Dan Quayle’s sinking public support because of image, Chenoweth’s clownish fears about the UN cropped up in The Washington Post last week when "In The Loop" columnist Al Kamen announced her impending marriage to Nevada rancher Wayne Hage, 61.

"A stretch black helicopter for the wedding?" asked columnist Al Kamen tongue-in-check, alluding to the wild Chenoweth imagination that has become her signature.

But if Chenoweth seems intense and over-wrought in her fears now about the UN – and about the U.S. Forest Service, which she detests even more as an evil empire – just wait.

The Nevada rancher she’s marrying has a reputation as one of the flintiest, most combative figures in the "Sagebrush Rebellion," a Nevada-bred movement that claimed the federal government doesn’t own public lands on which ranchers graze their herds.

Hage, who’s been charged with repeated grazing violations, is acknowledged as an intellect of the rebellion. He’s authored a book, "Storm Over Rangelands: Private Rights in Federal Lands" (Free Enterprise Press, $14.95), a how-to manual on waging war against the feds and underlying legal grounds as he sees them.

Most western states gave up rights to huge areas of their land, as much as 85 percent in some states, as the price for being admitted into the Union. The deal may have been unwise, in retrospect, but so far upheld as legal.

Hage and his comrades in the rebellion have been so acid-tongued in their futile war on Washington, some federal employees have moved from some hot spots of the "Sagebrush Rebellion" for fear of their safety.

As the saying goes, Chenoweth Hage were meant for each other.

Murphy is the retired publisher of The Arizona Republic and a former radio commentator.


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